Warnings: language, sexual situations, partial nudity, reference to violence, miscarriage
Once back at the apartment, Buck finally let go. The tears fell hot and fast, and he wailed and wailed as if he were hoping that maybe some cosmic force would eventually hear him and come to put him out of his misery.
A baby. He had actually been pregnant, and he had lost the baby.
Their baby. His and Jill's.
And the full nature of Jill's alienness had hit him, hard. It had been so easy to forget up until that moment. He was also crying for that, for the loss of this uncomplicated version of Jill as much for their potential child, for the pain he felt and also the relief. He felt guilty to feel so relieved that he wouldn't have to go through with that.
He eventually calmed down, and Ripp was working on making them some hot chocolate, with surprising competence.
"Here you go," Ripp said, setting the mug down in front of Buck.
It was exactly the way their mother had made hot chocolate, right down to the three little marshmallows in each mug.
Buck lifted his shaky hand to his lips and took a gulp.
"Maybe Dad was right," he finally said. "Not about everything, obviously, but about them being... other. They aren't really like us, are they? Not really..."
"No..." Ripp considered this. No, they weren't like them, and yet they were very much like them. Johnny and Jill were caught between worlds, not knowing exactly where they belonged. Most days, Ripp felt the very same way. "God, Buck. I feel like I should have said something. Warned you about this. But I didn't really think, you know?"
"How would you have known?"
Ripp told him about his time with Stella, and what that meant for the physiology of the hybrids, as best as he understood it. "So it's possible, even for the female hybrids. Obviously it's more likely for males, with all the... you know... equipment being as it is, but still possible. I never really thought it would actually apply to someone like Jill," he said. "I mean, I considered it, but then she doesn't even look very alien at all... besides the cheekbones, and well... maybe her upper lip. Her little nose."
"Ripp, don't you think it was incredibly risky for you to sleep with Stella Terrano?"
"I used protection!" he snapped. He was about to yell, "I'm not a fucking idiot!" but then stopped and realized how awful that would sound. He took a deep breath. "I... always do. Like I've always told you, Buck. You can't be too careful."
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a string of condoms. Ripp routinely put them into his pocket as part of getting dressed in the morning.
Buck nodded. He didn't place as much faith in that as a foolproof method as his brother seemed to, though he didn't say this. He then also considered the other ways Ripp might be putting himself at risk that maybe he hadn't already considered. He tried to find the best way to approach that topic.
Ripp could see that Buck was obviously thinking about something, but was remaining his quiet self, so Ripp got up and walked around the room to give him some space to think.
Buck finally found the words he was looking for, and tentatively asked, "What about you... and Ophelia?"
Ripp couldn't help but laugh, just a little. Of course Buck knew. He could read him like a book. "Ophelia's not an alien," he said. He hadn't meant it so sound as snarky as it did.
"No, but Johnny..."
"Yes, but I'm not boning Johnny, despite what Tank might have told you."
"But if Johnny sleeps with Phi and then you sleep with Phi..."
"Listen, Buck. I always use a fucking condom. Always. Not sometimes. Always. I wear one when the girl says she's on the pill. I wear one when I'm so drunk and high that I can barely even open the wrapper by myself. If they invented one you could just put on in the morning until you took it off at night, I would be all over that shit. I have literally never had sex without a condom."
"Really? Wow. That's... well, good for you, I guess." Buck was surprised to find that he had experienced something that his brother had not. He wouldn't have expected it, given what he assumed about the breadth and depth of Ripp's experience. And for him, the two experiences were hardly even comparable. He couldn't help but chuckle to himself.
"Nothing. You'll just... find out some day."
"You mean the day I finally lose my fucking mind completely and decide to start a family?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Don't hold your breath." He laughed, and Buck joined him. "Here!" he said, as he slammed some condoms down on the table next to Buck. "You now use them all the time too, okay? If Jill protests, give her some line about that "ribbed for her pleasure" bullshit and fall back on the other stuff I taught you." He held his fingers up and stuck his tongue between them. "Most women care way more about that, anyway."
"You don't think I should tell Jill about this?"
"Oh... Well shit, Buck, I don't know. Maybe you should. That's up to you. I probably would, but that's me."
"And if you'd rather not just yet, you know you can always talk to me about it."
"And Tank?" Buck asked.
"You're not being serious, right?"
"Didn't think so."
"Yeah, best not to go there, I'm afraid. For now, anyway."
Buck's gaze drifted down to the carpet beneath them. "Is it terrible that I feel relieved? I mean, I want kids one day..."
"One day is not your first fucking year of university."
"And... I'm a guy, you know?" He felt ashamed to admit that the idea of it made him uncomfortable.
"Yeah, I know. It's okay. I get it. And don't worry... one day you'll have that, just like you said. You and Jilly Bean, if that's what you want... the usual way."
Buck smiled at the thought. At the mention of Jill's name, his thoughts also turned to P.T. "Are you and Ophelia going to go to see the Smiths?"
"We weren't invited."
"You could go anyway. I'm sure Johnny just wasn't thinking."
"Well, think about it. I'm going to go tomorrow."
"You're right," Ripp said. "We should go."
"I'm sure Jenny would be happy to see you both. And P.T., too. And It'll give you a chance to say goodbye."
"Yeah, to say goodbye..."
It would be a new experience for them both.
Johnny sat next to his father's bed. He held his hand. Their hands were so similar, that he would not have been able to tell them apart if not for the signs of age. He had never felt more alien.
"I wasn't sure you were awake."
The old alien smiled, but it lacked his usual spark. His father's weakness was obvious.
"How are you feeling?" Johnny continued.
"Much better, now that you are here."
Johnny smiled and squeezed his father's hand. They sat there for quite some time without saying anything. P.T. was the one to eventually break the silence.
"Johnny, I am sorry for putting you through all of this. If I had known I would be putting you all in so much danger, I would never have settled here and started a family."
His words caught Johnny off guard, but he was quick to reassure his father. "It's okay, Dad. You had no way of knowing... and if you hadn't, well we wouldn't even exist, would we?"
"No, son. You are right about that. I would not want to undo any of it, and certainly not your existence, but I would not have willingly chosen this outcome for my family. Maybe that was a failure of imagination on my part when I decided to move here."
"How did you come to that decision? To settle down here with Mom? It wasn't the usual thing for your kind to do."
"No, you are right about that, also. It was not usual. I had served my time in my assigned role as a Pollination Technician and fulfilled my duty as required. I had already produced many hybrid children..."
Johnny once again found himself imagining his countless unknown half siblings, spread out all across Sim Earth. It crossed his mind from time to time, but it unsettled him and he didn't much like to dwell on it. If he were to accept it, would his own contribution to their genetic project be much the same?
His father went on. "I had visited this world for study, early on in my career, and I grew to like it here. I had also developed working relationships with some of the sims on this planet, and your grandfather was among them. Glarn introduced me to your mother. I agreed to come here after I concluded my pollinating career to live out the rest of my days."
There was a pause as they both considered how current circumstances had brought about the end of those days much sooner than expected.
Johnny broke the silence, thinking back to an earlier conversation with his father. "You said it was arranged, the marriage?"
"Your mother had previously been diagnosed with a rare condition, and as a result she would never be able to have children. Not in the regular sim way."
"Oh. I never knew that."
"It was a long time ago and your mother prefers not to discuss it. She wanted more than anything to have children of her own body and since our reproduction with sims works differently than sim to sim reproduction, I was able to provide them for her."
Johnny thought about what Ripp had revealed to him about alien reproduction and their parts. He had been unsettled to think of his father as not even a man in the sense that he had always assumed him to be, as he had presented himself as to the rest of the world. Or to think of his mother in that way, for that matter. Since it didn't affect Johnny directly, he could understand that he didn't need to know those details, and perhaps as most children felt about their parents, Johnny wasn't eager to know or discuss those intimate details with either of them.
"So that is how and why I came to live here with your mother," PT continued. "After some time, we found that we had also grown to love one another, as we have spoken of before." Both were silent as they thought back to that and other earlier conversations regarding marriage and duty to their species.
"Dad," Johnny began, "I'm sorry about everything with Jayne. I wanted to do what you wanted me to do, I really did, but I have... I'm..."
"You are in love, son. I understand. You've made that very clear."
"It's not just that." He gathered his courage, and then he explained to his father what was happening with him and Ophelia and also Ripp, as best he understood it. It was the first time he'd ever attempted to spell it out in words, and the first time he'd ever spoken of it at all to anyone besides the other two.
PT listened intently, but did not offer any comment until Johnny was finished. "So, this is what makes you happy?"
"Well yes, Dad. Part of me can't even imagine being happy without them, but at the same time...," he turned and looked out the window, trying to gather his words. "At the same time, I'm afraid it will fail."
"That might be a wise observation."
"What makes you say that?"
"Well, the situation would be difficult to balance. Just that."
"Oh. Well, yeah."
"Johnny," he began, "I know you and Ripp are very close, but sometimes I worry about the Grunts. Where they come from, and what the intentions of the General were when they moved here. You know he had nothing but hatred for our kind, and he was their father. You should know that blood is much thicker than water."
"What are you implying?! Ripp would never... I trust Ripp! I would trust him with my life!" He had already let him into every conceivable corner of his life, and then some. If he didn't trust Ripp, he trusted nobody.
"But his brother--"
"His brother?! His brother doesn't give two shits about him! He doesn't care half as much about him as I do! Given the choice, Ripp would choose me over Tank in a heartbeat!"
P.T. wasn't so sure of this, but he didn't say so. "I can see that you feel very strongly about it," he said. "And I was content enough to let you become friends with him, like Jill with Buck, because they seemed genuine enough, and we felt sorry for them, those poor boys. I was also happy to see you happy. You were never happier than when you were with your friends."
Nothing had changed. And yet, everything had changed.
If I had known I would be putting you all in so much danger, I would never have settled here and started a family.
His father's words, and the severity of them, still echoed in Johnny's brain.
"Do you think it won't be safe for them if I stay here?" Johnny asked. "Do you really think we'll all be in that much danger?"
"Yes," said P.T. "I am sorry, but I do. I truly believe that."
"You have to do what your heart tells you to do, son, but be well aware of the dangers that you will likely face in the years ahead. Do not make your choice lightly."
Johnny held his father's hand, and neither of them said anything more.
"Where are you going?" Jenny asked.
"I'm going to drop back to the apartment for some of my things."
Somehow, he knew his mother wasn't only talking about physical danger. Jenny was very perceptive like that. But he didn't care to talk about it, least of all with his mother, so he said, "I always am."
Jenny watched as her little boy, now a man, walked out the front door. Would he soon be walking out that door for the very last time? Jenny very much hoped not, but suspected that he might. She felt as though she should have been better prepared for that possibility, but she wasn't. She wasn't prepared at all.
She had not been truly prepared for any of this.
Jill stood in front of the mirror as she had so many times before, searching her face for some faint hint of her heritage, examining the ways she both was and was not alien.
She ran her fingers through her hair, the bright green that turned so many heads. She used it as her way of starting the conversation, of getting an opportunity to proclaim her alienness to anyone who would listen. It wasn't much, but it was a symbol. Like the nail polish, and wearing so much green. And it worked. Other sims would often remark on how she must really love green, and she was always quick to explain why.
But she didn't have to. Johnny was right about that. Unlike him, she had the choice. She didn't have to tell them. She could keep her mouth shut. Or better yet, she could blend in completely just as he had said. Not turning a single head, except maybe to recognize her her completely normal sim beauty, with the blonde hair and everything. Was she beautiful? Sometimes she thought so, but it seemed so stupid to even care, so she didn't put much effort into it. It's not like Buck cared about that sort of thing. He loved her anyway, no matter what she did to her appearance. And maybe she did prefer the slightly negative attention that comes from being different from everyone else, trying so hard not to simply fit in. But now, with her safety in question...
She thought about the choice to leave and go with the aliens, as Lola would and maybe Johnny too. That was also an option for her, right? She had just as much right to join that society as they did, though would the aliens even agree? Would she be rejected on appearances alone? Once again she felt uncertain about her identity and her place in that world, but she also wasn't sure she'd want to claim it if she could. This was her world. It was the only one she knew. But again, she often felt so uncertain about her place in it.
Jill reached into her pocket and took out a contact case. She'd ordered them online before all this had happened, but even then she'd felt too silly to even try them out beyond the safety of the bathroom mirror. She hadn't even shown them to Buck.
The dark eyes stared back at her. She wasn't sure if she liked how they made her feel. It was at once familiar and also completely foreign. Alien in every sense of the word. Did she relate to them? Yes, a part of her surely did but this wasn't her. She wasn't this visible. She was an alien deep inside. She was an outsider to both sides, not able to fully claim a place of belonging anywhere.
She was caught in between.
Johnny arrived at their apartment.
Looking back on the moment, he recognized this as the exact moment he'd made his decision. As he'd placed his hand on the door handle, he still hadn't known for sure what he was walking in there to do.
"Okay... I'm ready."
He would have said it, Johnny was certain. If Ripp had been there when he walked in, it would have given him the nerve to do it. He'd have walked across that threshold, and let Ripp lead him upstairs into that great unknown with them both. He'd have gained the nerve for that decision, and lost it for his other choice.
Seeing Ripp in that exact moment, would he really have been able to leave?
But Ripp hadn't been there.
Both choices would have been difficult for him to make. Johnny had been far more comfortable taking no action at all. But when he walked in to greet Ophelia, sitting all alone on her bed, he knew he had to do the most logical thing for them both, and for Ripp too. He needed her to be safe above all else, no matter what he might want deep down.
And he knew she'd tell him it was okay.
He would do it to protect them. Johnny nodded, recognizing the truth. What he hoped was the truth. He wasn't running away. He had always imagined himself doing something heroic, bigger than himself and his own concerns. As a child, he'd fixated on storybook heroes who rode in on white horses. Part of him still wanted to be that hero. He wanted to save them, and this was how he would do it. He would do it for his father, but more importantly, he would do it for them.
Johnny sat next to Ophelia on the bed, reached out, and held her tightly. "Where's Ripp?" he asked.
"He's at the theatre. Working."
Johnny nodded. "He's taking it seriously?"
"Good." His smile was genuine. "I knew he had it in him."
They sat together in silence. Ophelia looked him over, studying his face. "You've come to say goodbye, haven't you?"
Johnny swallowed hard. He nodded. "Yes."
She nodded slowly. "It's okay," she said. "I understand. This is something you have to do."
"I need you both to be safe."
"I know. It's... if you have to go, then you have to go. It's okay. We'll be okay."
Maybe that was why he'd made that choice. He knew she would accept his decision. She'd let him go. He needed her to tell him it was okay, that it would be okay, and he had known that she would.
"I wish it didn't have to be this way," he said. "I really wish..." He struggled to hold back his tears.
"It's okay..." She hoped if she repeated it enough times, it would become true.
Johnny had so many things he wanted to say to her. So many, many things. He would never find all the words he needed.
He took her hand in his. "I love you. I will always, always love you."
She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
He went on. "And knowing that love, taking it with me..."
"Not all of it," she said, placing her hand on his cheek. "I'll always keep part of that love here, with me."
"Ripp will..." He squeezed her hand, unable to continue. "He will. I know he has it in him, even if he doesn't believe that yet himself. And you take care of him too, okay? Don't take any crap from him. You kick his ass if you have to."
"Okay." She smiled, just briefly.
"He'll be here for you. You know he will be. He always has been."
"Please," she said, "Before you go... I want you. Want you to make love to me, this one last time before you go. Can you do that?"
He nodded. "Yes."
He could do that, and why not?
The love was still there, to give.
He had nothing but love for Ophelia.
Ophelia poured her heart out to him, loved him more than she ever had, than she ever had loved anyone before. He'd made up his mind and she wouldn't ask him to stay, but deep down in the recess of her heart she hoped that somehow it would be enough to change his mind.
It was everything he could have ever wanted. It was beautiful; a perfect reflection of his love for Ophelia, and her love for him. It was their whole relationship condensed into that one moment.
It was something he would never forget.
But it didn't change his mind.
It broke his heart, but it didn't change his mind.
Later that night, Ripp arrived back at the apartment.
Ophelia was asleep, so he quietly undressed and crawled into bed with her.
She stirred. "Johnny?" she asked, not quite awake but not quite asleep.
Ripp remained silent, but pulled her closer to him, breathing in her scent. He inhaled deeply. It was such a wonderful smell, and always so comforting to him, yet now it also filled him with immeasurable longing.
She smelled faintly of roses and of Johnny Smith.
First of all, thank you once again to my wonderful beta-readers, sophie10 and w_sims. Your input has been invaluable in helping me move along with the writing when I've been stalled, helping me to develop some of the ideas from the earlier drafts, and of course weeding out those sneaky errors (and balancing out my excess in "the search for comma perfection." Ha!). And also thank you to leskuh for her input on continuity. As always, it is very much appreciated.
If you're interested in the Smith family photo wall hanging recolours that I've made for this update, I will be sharing them soon (and I'll link to the post here once I do that). The hospital used in part one is by Phaenoh at MTS and can be found here (I made some minor adjustments to the rooms used in the photos). Thank you to verakas on tumblr for the suggestion! I would also like to thank allisasims for suggesting the Tumbleton Memorial hospital by whispered_rumor, which I loved but didn't use because the waiting room in Phaenoh's hospital was closer to what I was looking for in that scene.
I changed the colour of the Smith's cat. I doubt anyone noticed that, but I thought I'd mention it anyway. The kitten had been white, so it always bothered me that the adult version of Pita didn't have any white on her at all (and I used that name way before The Hunger Games, just sayin'). I also used some plastic surgery on elder Jenny, because face two changes far too dramatically for me in the elder stage and she really didn't look like herself at all anymore to me. This is a pretty well known issue with face two, and there's even a template replacement that addresses it by making the elder version unchanged from the adult version, but I don't think that makes sense either and I wanted a compromise between the two. The changes I made were fairly subtle, and most focused on the extremely hollowed out cheeks and the change in lip width (thinness I can understand, but why width? I think I may have even made them slightly thinner, because that actually makes sense). I aimed to keep her looking a little more like herself, but still an elder. Again, most would probably not even have noticed, but there's my full disclosure.
The Breaking News short I posted recently also takes place around this time, but didn't fit with the tone of the chapter. Chapter 28 is where we first saw the chain of events that ends with Pascal losing his job and getting the call about P.T.'s illness, and has some foreshadowing in the form of a flash forward to several months in the future from where the story currently is. Chapter 31.5 hinted at Buck's pregnancy and also gives some hints of things to come.
The next two chapters will continue the events of this chapter, with the funeral of P.T. No. 9 and some follow up (and fall out) to the events of this chapter. All will not be said and done on this particular arc of the story until the end of chapter 38.
Thank you for reading. :)
(Continue to Chapter 37)